BRINGING TWO IDEAS TOGETHER
Koans are usually associated with Zen and the term Anjin is usually associated with Pureland so nobody ever writes about a relationship between them. However, if we pan back and look at the general configuration of Buddhism as a whole, it is a spiritual path upon which one or several awakenings occur as distinct life changing pivot points along the way and anjin is one of those, together with the state it gives rise to, and koans are stories about what leads to a person - usually a famous sage - arriving at such a point, together with a focus upon the spiritual problem or obstacle exemplified in that person's life.
SETTING OUT ON THE BUDDHIST WAY
A person starts out on he spiritual path - “goes forth from his castle” - finds the Buddhadharma and takes refuge. This is the first step in becoming a Buddhist and we often put a ritual around it to give it public recognition. If a person is serious they enter into some kind of Buddhist training - they acquire a “practice”. This may be meditation, chanting mantras, prostrations, various rituals, nembutsu or simply living in the presence of a teacher (called satsang). In this way a person learns about Buddhist theory, stories and lore and grows through a training of character. He makes progress through many of what our ancestors used to call improving experiences.
This might be the whole of a person’s Buddhist experience in one lifetime. However it is also possible that along the way some awakening may occur. We can call this by many names. It is a paravritti - a turning around - or we could say a change of heart. In a way it is a second conversion, taking refuge having been the first, or, in more Buddhist language, we might say a second going forth. According to tradition it might be called satori or kensho, or, in the Pureland trandition, shinjin, or the attainment of anjin. Each of these names and descriptions describes a slightly different nuance or aspect of what we are talking about.
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS
Now Buddhism is full of stories of the spiritual ancestors, and when we read these stories we see that nearly all of them had such a turning point and their life story pivots around it. This can easily lead us to a greedy or ambitious mind - “I want one of those experiences for myself”. This, of course, then sets up a paradox. We realise intellectually that our craving for experience actually gets in the way of any such transition actually occurring in our own case, because satori comes unbidden and anjin is when one is seized, not when one seizes.
This battle between head and heart can become a focus of one’s spiritual struggle. It may be formulated differently in different cases and against different traditional backgrounds. In Zen they talk about having a dilemma that is like being a fish with an iron ball stuck in its mouth - it can neither swallow it nor spit it out. In Pureland, it is the dilemma of the person who wants to have faith but cannot find it and, in large degree, cannot find it because the wanting to possess it obstructs the necessary letting go.
One of the ways that the ancients found to help people stuck in this spiritual dis-ease was to give them a story to study so that they came to understand the matter more fully. It is said that this method originated in China, but although it was no doubt developed in China it surely has its root back in India. This is because it has always been a practice to give the adept a Buddhist name and these names were often the names of former heroes of the tradition. If you were named Shariputra, you would certainly then want to know all about the original Shariputra and his life and spiritual path, how did he come to go forth, what did he discover, how did it change him, what became of him, what did he teach and so on. So the study of the stories of past masters must go back to early times. This is not to mention the fact that we all study the life of Buddha himself which is a classically archetypal example of the spiritual search, transformation and ministry.
THE CASE OF SHAKYAMUNI
We see that Buddha pursued his koan to the utmost and only “solved” it by being totally defeated by it. When he had tried every yogic penitential practice to its limit, he realised that everything he had done had been vain, ignoble and useless. This was humbling. He then had a night of contemplation in which he saw that he was still just as afflicted by the “forces of Mara” - lust, envy, spite, greed, hate, delusion - as ever, but realised there was a different way of seeing all this, a way that turned them into celestial flowers. This was his satori. This was his awakening of faith. It was a great change of heart which manifested in his subsequent life. No longer did he torture himself. No longer did he seek a solution for himself. Now he went forth for the sake, not of himself, but for all sentient beings. He had been turned around.
Anjin literally means “peaceful mind” and in practice means “settled faith”. Shakyamuni’s faith was so settled he did not have to think about it, but it bore him through all kinds of hardships and obstacles over the next fifty years. At first he did not know what to do, but then a god appeared and told him that “There would be some who would understand” and so his teaching mission began. When we are seekers, none of us knows what our true mission is. We are too wrapped up in our own salvation, which nowadays commonly takes the form of some kind of self-perfection project. We want to realise our ego-ideal. If we think about enlightenment, we see it in these terms, as something that will make our ego-ideal even more shiny. We do not really understand.
THE SHAKYAMUNI KOAN
Koans developed from the stories used in China into a much more succinct form in the less literate society of Japan. The whole thing got distilled into a line or two that sought to hit the nub of the spiritual issue. If we were to turn the story of Shakyamuni into such a one-liner we might say: “Show me your celestial flower: where is it now?” or “When you have abandoned everything, what have you still got?” or “As Mother Earth is your witness, what is she saying?”
KOAN IN PURELAND
One can work with such questions, again and again confronting one’s own smugness of intellect or frustration with one’s nature. Can I genuinely produce a celestial flower? Am I really ever willing to abandon everything? Dare I face Mother Earth? In all of these self-serchings one is questioning one’s faith and its seeming lack. Thus koans are all about anjin and I think that they can have just as important a role in Pureland as in the Zen tradition.